How the Second Lebanon War Set the Stage for the War in Syria and the Rise of Iran

Aug. 30 2017

Israel’s war with Hizballah in 2006 seems unrelated to today’s internecine strife in Syria. But in the view of Eyal Zisser, the two conflicts are connected by a thread that runs through the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the Iraq war, Syria’s own withdrawal from Lebanon, and Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle East:

Both [the Lebanon war and the Syrian civil war] are manifestations of the inherent weakness of state players in the region, i.e., the Arab states of the Middle East. These states have been weakened and in some cases have all but disappeared, leaving in their wake a vacuum filled by quasi-state organizations like Hizballah and Hamas. . . .

More importantly, these two events are a blatant demonstration of Iran’s penetration into the Levant as part of its drive to attain regional hegemony. . . . In fact, the Second Lebanon War and the Syrian civil war have strengthened Iran’s presence in the region, even if the wars have taken a steep toll on [Hizballah’s leader] Hassan Nasrallah and on Bashar al-Assad, Tehran’s local clients. The situation presents Israel with a dilemma as to the right response to the challenge generated by Iran. . . .

Until [Assad succeeded his father, Hafez] in June 2000, Syria had been the entity that set the tone in everything having to do with Lebanon, including Iran’s presence there. Syria had a military presence in Lebanon and controlled the country with an iron fist, while more than once exerting a moderating influence on Hizballah. Moreover, all the political powers in Lebanon subordinated themselves to Damascus and even conducted their communications with Hizballah through Syria. . . .

After Syria was compelled to remove its forces from Lebanon in the spring of 2005, Hizballah finally crawled out from under Syria’s shadow, and together with Iran became the entity that helped Assad withstand the American pressure on him (in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the fall of Saddam Hussein). The Second Lebanon War intensified this trend, increasing the personal, political, and even military dependence of the Syrian president on Iran and Hizballah.

This dependence, and Iranian regional influence, have grown even greater since the civil war began in Syria.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Lebanon, Second Lebanon War, Syrian civil war

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East